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J Anim Sci Biotechnol. 2014 Apr 16;5(1):22. doi: 10.1186/2049-1891-5-22. eCollection 2014.

Dairy sheep production research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA - a review.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Animal Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
Spooner Agricultural Research Station, Spooner, Wisconsin, USA.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Animal Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, USA ; Current address: Merial Ltd, Duluth, Georgia, USA.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Animal Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, USA ; Current address: Midwest Organic Services Association, Viroqua, Wisconsin, USA.


Commercial milking of sheep is a new agricultural industry in the United States starting approximately 30 yr ago. The industry is still small, but it is growing. The majority of the sheep milk is used in the production of specialty cheeses. The United States is the major importer of sheep milk cheeses with 50 to 60% of annual world exports coming to the United States during the past 20 yr. Therefore, there is considerable growth potential for the industry in the United States. The only dairy sheep research flock in North America is located at the Spooner Agricultural Research Station of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The research program started in 1993 and has been multifaceted; dealing with several areas important to commercial dairy sheep farmers. The East Friesian and Lacaune dairy breeds were compared and introduced to the industry through the research program. Both dairy breeds produced significantly more milk than traditional meat-wool breeds found in the U.S., but the two breeds differed in their production traits. East Friesian-cross ewes produced more lambs and slightly more milk than Lacaune-cross ewes whereas Lacaune-cross ewes produced milk with a higher percentage of fat and protein than East Friesian-cross ewes. Lactation physiology studies have shown that ewes with active corpora lutea have increased milk yields, oxytocin release during milking is required to obtain normal fat percentages in the milk, large udder cisterns of dairy ewes can allow for increased milking intervals, and short daylengths during late pregnancy results in increased milk yield. In the nutrition area, legume-grass pastures and forages with a higher percentage of legume will result in increased milk production. Grazing ewes respond to additional supplementation with increased milk yield, but it is important to match the supplement to the quality of the grazing. Ewes on high quality legume-grass pastures that are high in rumen degradable protein respond with increased milk production to supplements high in energy and/or high in rumen undegraded protein.


Dairy sheep; East Friesian; Grazing; Lacaune; Lactation physiology; Nitrogen efficiency; RDP; RUP; Supplementation

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